Reviewer Mark Helsey of the U.S. Review of books found much to like in my novel, “Until Death Do You Part: An Americal Family Meets Their Sicilian Cousins.” Feeling an apparent need for a critic to be critical of the works he reviews, he found few grammatical errors (Try to write a write a 400-page book without any, if you think that it is easy.) and at times he thought I added too much information and on other occasions not enough. He concluded, “Readers who enjoy a skillful handling of settings and atmosphere will find this work resonates with their tastes. Also, those who like a good adventure with a nice bit of action focused on relatable characters in unusual situations should find this novel an enjoyable read.
The complete review appears below:
book review by Mark Heisey
“Frank took the gun from Roger, slapped in another magazine, pointed it towards the car, and gave it a burst of bullets. The screams stopped.”
The Calase family is going to Sicily to see relatives they have never met. Robert and Nancy, along with Robert’s brother William, are taking their children back to where their family came from a generation ago. They are bringing their daughter Mary, who works as a hairdresser downtown with William, and their sons, Frank and Roger. Roger is a failed portrait painter who just broke up with his girlfriend in San Francisco and is heading back to the family home in Louisiana. Frank is a Marine, grounded from flying due to injuries, who has learned while on his way home for leave that his wife filed for divorce. Although the Caleses suspect that the Sicilian branch of the family may be involved in some illegal activities, they don’t imagine that they are a major part of the Sicilian mafia. Amidst growing bloodshed, Luigi, also known as the Claw, plans to marry two of the young Sicilian ladies to the American brothers as a show of strength to the other mafia families as well as to get them out of the country and away from bloodshed. And Luigi is not a man to disappoint.
Smith is an accomplished writer, and it shows in this work. His sentences are well-written with few grammatical errors, and his pacing feels natural. Smith also does due diligence when it comes to researching the people, places, and items he places in the novel. His attention to detail is evident. The English Patient, by Michael Ondaajte, is a novel that stands out partly because of the impeccable sense of place the reader experiences. Smith’s book is similar in tone. The locations, history, food, architecture, and culture of the Sicilians described in the novel transport the reader to the Italian island. Particularly notable is Smith’s passion for writing about food. The reader can see, smell, and practically taste some of the meals served in the novel. Another interesting parallel is how both branches of the family are very loyal to those within them and have a code of honor, even if the two branches operate very differently. There is a nice tension built between the family ties that bring the groups together and the moral/criminal differences that drive them apart. Many readers will find themselves both liking the Sicilian branch of the family and fearing the harm they may inflict upon the Caleses.
There is a lot to like in this overseas adventure: mafia battles, undercover agents, family ties, blood feuds, and a good sense of place. However, there are times when the book seems to include too much educational detail. There are also points where the plot complications feel too easily and quickly solved in a work where taking time for more information is paramount. Still, this book has a broad appeal. Readers who enjoy a skillful handling of setting and atmosphere will find this work resonates with their tastes. Also, those who like a good adventure with a nice bit of action focused on relatable characters in unusual situations should find this novel an enjoyable read.1
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